Organisations should include FOI provisions in contracts with private sector providers, MPs say

MPs on Parliament's Justice Select Committee say that contracts may be the best way forward to ensure that private sector companies performing public duties comply with their FOI obligations. The Committee, which has scrutinised the effectiveness of the FOI legislation, says in its report of 26 July that the right to access information must not be undermined by the increased use of private providers in delivering public services, and contracts for private providers should be explicit and enforceable in stipulating FOI obligations.

The Committee considers that ‘contracts provide a more practical basis for applying FOI to outsourced services than partial designation of commercial companies under section 5 of the Act, although it may be necessary to use designation powers if contract provisions are not put in place and enforced.’ The Committee recommends that the Information Commissioner monitors complaints for guidance in this area.

Other recommendations to improve FOI include:

• Higher fines should be imposed for destruction of information or data and the time limit should be removed on prosecution of these offences.
• The law should be amended to protect universities from having to disclose research and data before the research has been published.
• All public bodies subject to the Act should be required to publish data on the timeliness of their response to freedom of information requests.
• Where public authorities publish disclosure logs, the names of those requesting information should be included.

See the report: Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.